The Cheever Chronicle

In the summer of 1970 I saw John Updike read his story “Bech Takes Pot Luck” in an auditorium at Harvard. Updike threw himself into the reading. The story was funny and Updike seemed to enjoy the story’s humor as much as those of us in the largely student audience.

Updike stayed around after the reading to answer questions, in response to one of which he spoke about John Cheever. He said that Cheever was a mild-mannered man whose ferocity in a novel such as Bullet Park (Cheever’s then new book) came as a surprise. The sources of Cheever’s ferocity have become apparent over the years since then.

The New Yorker has now published Updike’s posthumous review/essay on Blake Bailey’s big new biography of Cheever. In the review Updike generously meditates on Cheever’s “paradoxical character.” The review is interesting in a variety of respects, not least in displaying Updike at the top of his form in the genre as he approached his own death.

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